During the summers, I spend quite a few Sundays guest preaching at local churches. One recent weekend, the church administrator asked for an updated bio. Sending it in made me think that maybe I need to update you all on what The Pilgrimage is really about. In the requested bio, I said about myself (in the third person ;-): “Her personal mission is to provide communal and individual spiritual direction and formation for spiritual inquirers, spiritual “refugees,” and others who simply want to deepen their experience of God. She hopes to assist people in movement toward wholeness in Christ and in greater love for and investment in local churches.”
What that really means is that for a very, very long time, I’ve had a weight of sorrow and hope on my heart for the Church and Jesus’ prayer for it in John 17. For less of that time, but still longer than the Pilgrimage has been in existence, I’ve had a similar weight of sorrow and hope for spiritual refugees, particularly those fleeing that Church. You may have noticed that, at least in the USA, people don’t church shop anymore–they just leave church and don’t come back. This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to youth/Millennials/young adults/hipsters–or whatever label one wants to use to make church flight the youth pastor and campus minister’s “problem.” This is happening across all ages. In frequent cases, church flight happens around a person’s crisis of faith in their 30’s or 40’s, crises which many churches are ill-equipped to handle for various reasons.
I have gone through a couple of my own crises of faith, and I am grateful to say I have always had people stronger and further along in their pilgrimage to and with Jesus to shepherd me through. Frequently it has been a whole church community in one way or another, but maybe equally often it has been individuals or smaller groups who have helped me along the way. I’m not under any grand delusions that I (or even the Pilgrimage Outfitters and email distribution list) can “fix” the Church. I’m also not trying to provide an alternative to church or an excuse to disengage even further from church.
My true dream/hope/prayer is that through different Pilgrimage initiatives, people will connect with others who are in similar places on the path (or, if they feel stuck, maybe in the spiritual/metaphorical refugee camp), and together help each other notice where God is in their situations, what God might be doing with them there. Ultimately, the hope is that they will be able to move out of the “refugee camp” back into community with their sisters and brothers in Christ, forgiving where there has been wounding, and also hopefully restored in such a way that they can foster godly transformation in the Jesus-community they join. I really would love for churches to see the Pilgrimage as a resource, not as competition (or tacit critique), to help them further their own ministries of transformation by caring for people who might be falling through the cracks.
For a while, the demographic focus for this effort was recent college graduates, but often the reasons that group of people leaves church are different from the ones that cause adults with more life experience to leave, and I am better trained and equipped to deal with “Dark Night of the Soul” sorts of issues at this point in ministry. Now the demographic focus has broadened to adults of any age who feel somewhat on the fringe of the Christian family, but who still long for a relationship with God, and even with other humans if they can find a group that might understand them.
Because I’ve been so scattered this year with house buying and selling, and the associated moving (!), I recently wondered how much value the Pilgrimage has been providing the small band of spiritual travelers who come back again and again for new Bible studies, etc. Recently I’ve had a few different interactions that have encouraged me that we are in fact a lifeline to some of these people. Please pray for us as we conclude our summer and get ready for some new things in the fall. I’ll tell you about those over the next few weeks!